Seduction and Sacrifice(8)

By: Miranda Lee

'I understand your confusion. Byron adopted me when I was seventeen and he was thirty-two. We are more like brothers than like father and son.'

'Oh. . .oh, I see.' She didn't actually. Seventeen was rather old to be adopted. Still, it wasn't any of her business. Her business was getting a good price for the opals in her pocket.

'Let me assure you, Miss Smith,' Nathan Whitmore said, "that I know opals, and I won't cheat you. Byron would have my hide if I did anything to ruin his reputation for honesty and fairness.'

'He certainly comes highly recommended.'

'Whitmore Opals has a reputation second to none. Shall we go inside, then, and get down to business?'

Gemma hesitated, her eyes darting over Nathan Whitmore's shoulder and into the motel room. It was an oddly personal place to do business in. Intimate, even. Now her eyes darted back to that cool grey gaze.

"Dear Miss Smith,' he said in a rather droll tone, 'I have not come this far to compromise young women, however beautiful they might be.'

Beautiful? He found her beautiful?

My God, I'm blushing, she realised, feeling the heat in her face.

Hoping it wouldn't show underneath her tan, she kept her chin up and her eyes steady. He was probably only flattering her, she decided. Hoping, perhaps, to compliment his way into giving her less money than her opals were worth. Ma had warned her about city businessmen. Cunning, ruthless devils, she'd called them only this morning.

But this one didn't look like a devil. More like an angel with that golden hair and that lovely full-lipped mouth.

'Shall we sit down at the table?' he suggested, stepping back to wave her inside.

One swift, all-encompassing glance took in a typical motel room with a king-sized bed in one corner, a built- in television opposite, an extra divan and a round table and two chairs, over the back of which was draped a grey suit jacket.

Gemma chose the other chair and sat down, feeling conscious of her bare legs now, especially since the room was air-conditioned and much cooler than outside. She could appreciate now why its occupant was over-dressed. She clasped her hands together between her knees and gave a little shiver. Even her neck felt cool. If she could have taken her hair down out of its pony-tail she would have.

'The air-conditioning too cold for you? Shall I turn it down?'

'If you would, please, Mr Whitmore.'

How attentive he was, she thought. And how observant. Ma was right. City men were clever. Gemma determined to be on her guard.

The air-conditioning unit hissed when he turned it right off.

'Please call me Nathan,' he said suavely as he sat down, a lock of blond hair falling across his forehead. He swept it aside and smiled at her. 'And may I call you Gemma?'

Despite her earlier resolve not to be distracted by flattery or false charm, Gemma found herself smiling fatuously back at the man opposite her. She nodded, her tongue seemingly thick in her mouth. A light tangy pine smell was wafting across the table from him which she found both pleasant and perturbing. Did all city men smell like that?

'Well, Gemma?' he interrupted her agitated daydreaming. 'I presume you have some opals with you?'

"Oh. . .oh, yes.' Squirming both physically and mentally, she pulled the small canvas pouch out of her shorts pocket. Fumbling because her fingers were shaking, she finally undid the drawstring and poured the stones out on to the table, then watched with heart pounding while Mr Whitmore put a jeweller's glass to his eye and started examining them.

'Mmm,' he said once. 'Yes, very nice,' another time.

Finally, he put the glass down and looked over at her with a slight frown. 'Did you mine these yourself?'

'No, my father did."

"And you have his permission to sell them?'

'He died a few days ago,' she said, so bluntly that the man opposite her blinked with astonishment.

'I'm sorry,' he murmured politely.

Then you'd be the only one, Gemma thought.

'You couldn't have known,' she returned, her voice flat.

It brought another sharp glance. 'Do you want individual prices, or are you selling these as a parcel?''Which will get me more money?'

He smiled. Gemma noticed that when he smiled he showed lovely white teeth, and a dimple in his right cheek. That was because his smile-was slightly lopsided. There was no doubt that he was by far the most attractive man she had ever met, despite his age.

'There are twenty-seven stones here,' he resumed, 'most worth no more than ten dollars. But this one 1 particularly like.' He pointed to the largest. 'It has a vivid green colour that appeals to me personally. So I'll offer you two hundred and sixty dollars for the rest and one hundred dollars for this one. That's three hundred and sixty in all.'

Gemma remembered what Ma had said about not accepting the first price. 'Four hundred,' she countered with surprising firmness.